Tuesday, August 26, 2008

delivering content to mobile platforms

There are two approaches currently to delivering content to mobile platforms:
1. Require that the student download and install an application to their PDA so that courses can be displayed.
2. Rely on the built-in browser for delivery of content, without requiring each student to install additional software on their platform.

Option 1 gives more multimedia delivery capabilities, but limits the platforms that can be supported since a delivery application will be required for each type of platform (e.g. Blackberry, Windows Mobile 5, Windows Mobile 6, Palm, Symbian, iPhone, etc.) This option also has the enormous hurdle of requiring that the student download and install the application before they can even try to access the content.

Option 2 is only now coming into being a possibility because the browsers on these platforms are finally getting mature enough to handle web courses. This option requires the least modification to the end-user's platform, and will therefore result in the greatest success in content delivery.

In terms of course design, the main concern is the size of the end-users screens. Since this size can vary, a design paradigm based more on "web design" rather than "graphic artist design" is necessary. That is, the content should be laid out visually and implemented using the "best of web" ideas, such as allowing the browser to rearrange the content so that it fits the screen to require the minimum amount of horizontal scrolling. Also, the use of multimedia needs to be limited because of bandwidth and delivery/plug-in restrictions. None of the major mobile platforms play Flash yet as part of web pages. Some of the platforms have minimal, or no style sheet support.

The ReadyGo Web Course Builder produces content that can be delivered equally through standard desktop web browsers and through mobile platform browsers. Basic question types such as multiple choice, multiple selection, true/false, text entry, and numerical entry function well on all the major PDA platforms and can be tracked with the Server Side Testing module. Because of limitations in the browser capabilities, we do not recommend trying to deliver SCORM or AICC courses through web browsers. That is, the mobile platform browsers have limited JavaScript engines, so the two-way communication necessary between the course and the LMS will only work well on platforms such as iPhone. Even with these limitations, ReadyGo courses deliver and function well.

Courses created with ReadyGo also have the capability to have their style sheet (look and feel/layout) changed at run-time. By providing multiple links to the course (each with a different style sheet), the same content can be delivered to PDAs, high resolution screens, customers requiring large print, etc. The advantage of this is that the content only needs to be managed and generated once. As soon as it is updated, it will be updated for all the different platforms without additional effort.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Course creators outside of the US

India should be proud of its newly gained visibility in the IT field. Likewise, India should keep a paranoid eye out. The American expression would be "easy come...easy go..." The other expression I would throw out as a caution would be "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That is, India may pull jobs away from the US because of cost advantages today, but tomorrow they will be pulled away from India by China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, etc. As India's personnel gain experience they will need to compete against staff from the US, Europe, and eventually Russia (which has always had a deep pool of very educated, and very under-utilized talent).

Property and intellectual rights issues should be strongly considered. In the US, because of the legal system, developers have to avoid copying anyone else's ideas and intellectual property. This concept is taking time to take root outside the US & Europe. There are some extremely creative personnel in developing nations, but there is also a large population of new developers that have no issue "borrowing" designs from other developers. Culturally, they see nothing wrong with it...nobody gets hurt. It is not a physical object. Ideas are seen as "community property". Software/courseware is still seen as an intangible object, therefore open to replication.

Yes, it would be good for US personnel to make courses less "American", however, the reality is that the US is a bit of an "island". We Americans love to export ideas/culture, but are rather hesitant about importing ideas/cultural values. Reality #2 is that business goes where the market is, and until the Rest Of World ("ROW") economically grows past the US/Canada GDP, the strongest pole of attraction will still be the US market. And thus, products sold to the US market will still need to be acceptable to the American consumer.